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In Episode 37 of his new book, author Julian Roup puzzles over Boris’s roadmap out of Covid-19 lockdown.
In case you missed Episode 36, click here.
Life in a Time of Plague
Sussex, 11th May 2020
By Julian Roup
There is a cool wind blowing from the west this morning, rocking the branches of the huge neighbouring oak tree and the poplar lower down the valley, but the sun is shining intermittently.
The much-vaunted Prime Ministerial broadcast last night was vintage Boris. The speech about lifting lockdown was as clear as mud. His address to the nation was immediately condemned as divisive, confusing and vague, and the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all said they would not be changing the ‘Stay at Home’ message to his new ‘Stay Alert’ message, which signified nothing.
The country was on red alert even before Boris woke up to the dangers posed to Britain by the pandemic, (bragging as he did of shaking hands with Covid-19 patients) and omitting to mention that he had missed five emergency COBRA meetings. We all had a fair idea what was coming, if you exclude the 250,000 steeplechase fans at Cheltenham who took a racing bet on their chances of living or dying (at what odds I wonder) and the 80,000 rugby fans at the Six Nations game. I hope none of them found themselves scrumming with Covid, but I suspect many did.
The Labour Party today is immediately critical, saying workers need to know that they will be safe if they go to work, as the PM has suggested. At the same time, the PM said please avoid using public transport; instead, use the car, cycle or walk. It was, at best, confusing, and no use at all for those who need to go to work by train.
Speaking from Downing Street, Johnson looked healthy and rather more spruced up than usual. Someone had brushed his hair, and he was even wearing a tie. He said that if the circumstances were right, schools in England and some shops might be able to open next month, and the government was ‘actively encouraging’ people to return to work if they cannot work from home.
But he stressed that this was “not the time simply to end the lockdown”, and that he intended to take a cautious approach, guided by science, otherwise a second deadly wave of the ‘devilish’ virus would take hold.
‘Stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives’ – used since the beginning of the outbreak in the UK – has been ditched and replaced with ‘Stay alert, control the virus, and save lives.’
His remarks drew criticism and concern from across the political spectrum – and his decision to drop the ‘Stay at Home’ message in favour of the vague advice to ‘Stay Alert’ was met with howls of rage and bitter humour on social media. The new ‘Stay Alert’ message has been ruthlessly mocked, with Brits coming up with their own satirical versions.
Some of my favourites include:
“Ooh careful, mind how you go. Stay lucky.”
“Sneak up, shout at the virus, then run.”
“Do as you please, we’re, not fussed if some of you die.”
“We haven’t got a fucking clue what we are doing.”
“I’m staying home thanks.”
The last one echoes my own thoughts on this.
Though he gave no details, Boris described his blueprint for a gradual easing of the coronavirus lockdown in England, which could see primary schools, shops and nurseries partially open from June 1, and some cafes and restaurants with outdoor space too. Places of worship, and cinemas with socially distanced audiences could open for business from July.
He was mocked from the left and right of the political spectrum for his message, which essentially said you could go to work unless you couldn’t, and that now you could get as much exercise outside as you wished as long as you maintained social distancing, and if you misbehaved, fines would be much bigger now. And if the infection started to rise again, he would put the brake on hard and go back to square one. The speech just served to confuse a confused nation further.
There is a shopping basket of baffling stories in the media this morning.
A Sun and Sunday Times survey reveals that 90% of Britons don’t want the lockdown lifted and are happy to stay home for longer if needed.
Teachers have asked: how do you keep children in primary school safe? How do you keep the toys for the little ones Covid free?
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, says he is not lifting the lockdown in London. He says people should avoid using public transport if you have to go to work. And if you can’t maintain social distancing, stay home. “As I speak to you, people are dying in London. If we lift the lockdown, we risk a greater second peak.” He said 29 London bus drivers had died so far.
Specsavers are speaking of Zoom based eye testing, but I just can’t see it working.
Travellers from France will not be tested at British airports or required to go into 14 days of self-isolation.
On the Isle of Wight, a ‘track and trace’ app trial is launched today, with a good pick-up by people on the island, it is reported. If it is shown to work, the whole of Britain will be asked to join, so that we can track the spread of Covid, and maybe monitor Cabinet ministers meeting their mistresses.
And the BBC reports that sex workers are still active and travelling the country to meet clients at their homes. They need to feed their families, they have told reporters.
I help Jan’s sister Gail to get a press release out for her employer, the mental health charity The Bridge Foundation. It is warning that there will be long term damage to family life in Britain, because of mental health issues during lockdown, and is offering support through Zoom and other social media mechanisms.
The release states: “The Bridge Foundation therapists support people of all ages with a huge range of issues such as anxiety, depression, self-harm, gender identity or sexuality, trauma, bereavement and family breakdown, or relationship difficulties.
“During this current pandemic, there are many additional reasons why families and individuals of all ages are coming under pressure. For some, existing anxieties and phobias are increased; for some, child (and adult) behaviour becomes more challenging as people experience more frustration, or as anxiety tips into anger; others might find themselves retreating into themselves and feeling higher levels of despair and hopelessness, struggles with sleep or difficulty concentrating.
“The team of therapists at The Bridge Foundation have adapted the therapy & counselling they provide for online and phone appointments. They are finding that through the use of technology, it’s possible to support families effectively. This includes supporting parents to better help their children, helping with family dynamics and working with individual children and young people directly, as well as providing therapy for adults.”
Throughout the day, the tennis match between Boris supporters and his opponents hits the issue of ‘Stay Alert’ instead of ‘Stay Home’ backwards and forwards across the airways.
So here in the UK this week. we wait some more; wait to see more detail of Boris’s and Cummings’s plans for us, and keep a watching brief on the voices from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, from the media and the Labour Party, as we try to finesse the odds of how we will deal with reintegration into society. I recall the prediction that by the time all this madness ends, 80% of us will have caught it. Not great odds for someone my age, so lockdown seems to be the only way, to just sit it out for as long as one can, and hope and pray that a vaccine is created soon.
Click here for Episode 38.
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